I tend to have a pretty weird travel strategy. With certain things, I’m incredibly type-A and obsessive – I research my hostels as extensively as possible before picking one and then book them (along with my plane and train tickets) weeks or months in advance. Sure, this doesn’t lend itself so well to spontaneity, but it’s saved me quite a bit of cash in some cases and it saves me from the anxiety of making decisions on the fly.
Despite this neurotic planning of accommodations and transportation, I’m woefully bad at planning out how, exactly, to fill the days I’m spending in a certain city or country. I always ask friends who have visited or lived in a place before to give me some recommendations, and I always check to see what places I can cross off in that 1000 Places to See Before You Die book (with which I have a semi-unhealthy obsession), but if I’m going to a less popular destination, I sometimes find myself with vague ideas of things to do but end up sitting around in a coffee shop. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite things about traveling is finding new favorite cafes, but hanging out and drinking coffee is something I can do anytime in Brighton or back in the states.
At the same time, this aimless puttering did help me stumble upon some stuff to do in Ireland, so if you’re going, here are a few ideas for your itinerary:
- The Comedy Crunch at The Stag’s Head, Dublin: On my last night in Dublin, I wound up at an underground (literally) standup show in a pub basement per an entry on TripAdvisor. If you’ll be in town on a Sunday or Monday night, I’d definitely recommend checking it out — it’s free to get in (at the end of the night, you can give them whatever you can afford or think they deserve), the comedians of course weren’t big names but for the most part had solid sets, and they even give out free ice cream halfway through. The show is at 9PM every Sunday and Monday, but I would definitely recommend getting there when the doors open at 8:30 if you want a decent seat (8:45 if you want any seat).
- Paddywagon Blarney & Cobh Tour, Cork/Dublin: My hostel in Cork was kind enough to help me book this half-day tour, and it was well worth the €25. The same company also runs a full-day tour that includes a visit to Kinsale, but I couldn’t be bothered to make my way to the tourist office by 8:30AM — if you can get up that early while on holiday, more power to you, I’m sure the full-day tour is great. Anyway, the trip took us on a coach equipped with free WiFi and a funny and knowledgeable guide a few minutes out of Cork city centre into Blarney, where entry to Blarney Castle was included in the tour. An Austrian girl who was also traveling solo joined me in climbing up the extremely frightening and steep staircase to the top of the castle and the infamous Blarney Stone — somehow, we both managed to hang over a sheer drop and kiss that stone that’s been kissed by millions of other people without fainting or vomiting. I think my speaking ability has improved a bit, though, so I guess it was worth it. We then wandered around the castle grounds and had Irish coffees at the Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel before getting back on the tour bus and heading to Cobh, which is famous for being the Titanic’s last port of call. Once there, I headed off to the Cobh Heritage Centre and checked out the fascinating exhibits about emigration and transatlantic sea travel (entry is just €6 for students — well worth it!) before hiking up to the town’s cathedral to snap some photos and hopping on the bus to head back to Cork. The tour offered a great chance to add two more Irish towns to my itinerary, have a nice jaunt through the Cork countryside, and learn more about the history of the area. Would certainly recommend, especially as it also departs from Dublin, so you needn’t plan a stay in Cork to take part.
- Genealogy research — anywhere: According to my good friend Wikipedia, over 36 million Americans can trace their ancestry to Ireland, and while the internet has made genealogy research quite easy (especially if you’re a sucker like me who actually pays for Ancestry.com), actually visiting Ireland is definitely still the best way to trace those roots further back than your immigrant ancestor. Even after tracing other branches of my family back as far as the 3rd century AD, I hit dead ends with all of my Irish immigrant ancestors: the oldest documentation I could find was their first appearances in US Census records. For most of these relatives, my research in Ireland wasn’t much more enlightening, as I only had the vague Census information to help trace these ancestors with, for the most part, quite common names. But for one branch, the family name was so unusual that there were only two households with that surname in all of Ireland in my target time period, so with the help of some books at the National Library of Ireland, I was able to find the county and barony where my ancestors were from. The experts there and at the Cobh Heritage Centre took a look and told me that’s likely as far back as I’ll be able to go without more detailed residency information (which I will probably never find), but were able to speculate that based on the scraps of information I did have, these ancestors had probably been of English descent and only spent a couple of generations in Ireland before emigrating during the famine. More likely than not I’ll never know if that’s true, but I also never would have even had that theory if I hadn’t done some legwork in Ireland. If you’re interested in tracing your own Irish roots, the National Archives and National Library are both great places to start and have free genealogy consultants on hand. If you already know what county or parish your ancestors are from, most localities have their own genealogy resources with more targeted records. I’d definitely recommend checking these things out while you have the chance. It’s quite rewarding to fit even the tiniest piece into the puzzle of your family history.
Those “bullet points” got much longer than I’d meant them to. Oops. But in any case, these are some of the activities that resulted from my failure to actually create an itinerary before going on my trip — not too bad!